Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Social safety net fails to support full-time minimum wage workers

Imagine working 40 hours a week every week and bringing home less than $1,000 a month. Then imagine trying to live off of that for all of your utilities, rent, food, gas, car payment, etc. You would assume anyone working full-time wouldn’t find themselves in this situation, but that’s the lot for low-income workers.

I discovered this when interviewing a young man for his food stamp application. I asked him how many hours a week he works and how much he makes an hour. Then I get out the calculator and do the math. 40 hours a week x $7.25 an hour x 4 weeks a month = $1,160 a month. Subtract taxes, and he was right: his take home pay for full-time work was less than a grand a month.

This is where the safety net system comes along and fails to support low-income workers, because the income guidelines for food stamps don’t account for taxes for the first income test: the gross income test. For a single person feeding themselves, their gross income has to be less than $1,126/month. Our full-time worker living on less than a thou a month grosses $1,160. No food stamps for this fellow.

Which, well, is not fair. For starters, had taxes been taken into account, he would have been eligible. And eligible for quite a bit due to his rent and utility costs. An extra $95 a month to pay for food would have really been a hand up in his situation.

Secondly, had he received $1,000 in any other source of income every month instead of working for it and paying taxes, he would have been eligible for assistance. But since taxes aren’t subtracted when considering eligibility, the system is letting this young man still go hungry.

So, for any of you contacting legislators next time the Farm Bill is up: tell them to change the rules so that the gross income guidelines are gross income minus taxes.

-Ann Sanders, Food Stamp Specialist

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